You, dearish reader, said to yourself a season ago or so, “My, but if that Theo Epstein builds a Cubs team that wins a World Series — two famous franchises and two famous ‘curses’ broken? — he’s a Hall of Famer for sure, no matter whom he sexually punches toward the end of his career!” No doubt you and all those who said similar were and are correct. But, ah, the question is: Which hat does he wear?
No, no, unfurrow thy brow, for we at Banknotes Industries know as well as thou dost — if not better — that the executive does not wear a team cap. The choice for young Epstein is pointed or floppy, broad-brimmed or star-topped, solid or patterned; for young Epstein, scion of sweathogs, is a wizard. How else could one unweave such potent ensorcellments as chained the Red Sox and Cubs to historical failure? Otherwise, we should be suggesting that the very notion of “curses” is a silly one, that indeed ours is a world without magic. How dull, how overmodern, how like a Hollywood Injun.
The Curse of the Bambino
Astral passages and spectral gates: These are the road the young Epstein traveled to the spirit realm. Beneath Avernus, beneath notice, he crept like one of the dead, themselves, that he should not offend them — he, a visitor to necromantic shores. What offering must he have made? What rites performed? What incantations uttered in shadowed whisper? Yea, whatever it was he must have done, for lo, he held congress with the shade of Ruth. Babe Ruth, the great; Babe Ruth, the god. He wore no hat. He winked; he smiled. Epstein made his case. It turned out Ruth did not care; immortal though he was, the curse was not his creation. Still, he gave some pointers. Epstein prepared the ritual. The materials were difficult to obtain, but fortunately the Red Sox had that covered.
The Billy Goat Curse
A troubling trial it was to traverse the underworld of the goats to discover the owner of the curse of ’45, for where all the living and the dead know and love the Sultan of Swat, young Theo did not even possess the goat’s name — his true name: his name among goats. Much blood was spilt, much garbage strewn. O, what a harrowing tale it was, albeit here edited for time constraints. It is a dangerous plane where the dead goats go: countless troll-free bridges; sated satyrs lounging, telling capricorny jokes; rugged, rocky heights from which to throw oneself in pride. In the end, worn and spent, not even clean-shaven, Theo found himself face-to-face with the magical beast.
The goat stared hard at him, across space and time and the collapsible card table between them, which had for a hat a TV dinner. Young Epstein did not breathe; he wanted to betray none of the fear that devoured his intestines.
“I am Theo the Curse-Breaker,” he said evenly, “I am here about the Cubs.”
The goat fixed him with a freezing glare, and the hellfires raged in his eyes. He said: “So you want to play with madness, boy? You want to let the goat through the gates for a seat in the bleachers?!” It turned out the goat did not care, either; smelly and powerful though he was, the curse was not his creation. Nor could he apart from vague speculation about fielding mistakes account for the gap from 1908 to 1945, being a goat and all. Still, he gave some pointers. Epstein prepared the ritual. The materials were difficult to obtain, but fortunately the Cubs had that covered.
The Day He Chooses
Sometimes, Theo knew, wizards create lightning storms simply for dramatic effect. And yet, this one was so ominous, so frightening. He was like a child again, now choosing hats — all this power in his veins and still such timidity found room to course beside it. He was Theo Epstein, Greco-Judean, a supporting role in the bible, a gospel all his own, champion of champions. And quaking. He looked between and among the hats, and it was like that day before the crystal ball, all over again.
That fateful, awful day when he had peered into the crystal ball and beheld not some misty portent but the lightning-sharp clarity of the past shook him as he had shaken on the day in the past which gripped his vision.
He was lying, or leaning, or he was helpless — he wanted to believe that he was helpless. The dread scene before him repeated the prior moments’ violence like an idiot’s chant: all blood and horror. The Master was above him, behind him, judging young Epstein’s failure. The boy wizard wanted to ask “Why?” but his voice had fled. The Master knew this as well. He spoke and as he spoke the words passed through Theo like a rushing wraith.
“You know the reason, my apprentice. It is always thus. The most willing to do good are the least able to do good. Fate rewards fortune. The good sacrifice themselves, the wicked to preserve.”
Theo was shivering — beleaguered by flames and washed in sweat and shivering. He wanted to close his eyes — to escape the consequence — but he could not. All that power, and he had done nothing. It was the joke of the bullets, and it would not let him shut out this wretched sight.
It was his own face, but the Master’s speech. He lay there in his failure and the Master spoke through him; and there, as he watched his failure in the crystal ball, the Master spoke through him; and there, as he stood before the hats, his memory unwillingly cast unto the day before the crystal ball, the Master spoke through him. The lesson was doom.
Theo Epstein held his face in his hands and sobbed. “No hat,” he said at last, “No hat on the plaque.”